Uganda denies deal with Israel on African migrants

Mr Okello Oryem, Uganda's State Minister in charge of International Affairs

KAMPALA- Uganda has denied partnering with Israel to host thousands of African migrants who have been ordered to leave the Middle East country within 90 days.

“We have no agreement with the Israeli government to send refugees from other countries that are in Israel to Uganda. We are baffled with the reports,” said Mr Henry Oryem Okello, the State Minister in charge of International Affairs.

Without giving details, Mr Okello stressed in a telephone interview: “We have no partnership agreement with the government of Israel, ask them (Israel) to explain how they reached that decision.”

The minister’s denial comes hardly a day after media reports that Israel government has issued a notice for thousands of African migrants to leave the country or face imprisonment.

The migrants who are mostly from Eritrea and Sudan, according to report will be given the option of going to their respective home countries, to Uganda or to Rwanda.

Described as infiltrators, the 38,000 migrants are said to have gone to Israel to seek asylum after fleeing persecution and conflict but authorities regard them as economic migrants.

Dr Livingstone Sewanyana, the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI) said that repatriation of refugees is only acceptable if they would not suffer harassment or mistreatment like those they flee from.

“If Israel has ascertained that the conditions prevailing in those countries are conducive, it would not be in breach of international obligations. But if the conditions still warrant refugees to be protected, Israel would be in breach of her obligations,” he said.

Dr Sewanyana, a human rights activist observed that Uganda as a host country would be in fulfilment of her international obligations to accord refugees’ protection.

“If they (refugees) do not render host communities in a condition of competition over land and other resources, there would be no problem. But if they create unnecessary competition, it would be advisable that Uganda does not render her borders unnecessarily open,” Dr Sewanyana said.